OP-ED: PR pros can find value in doing their own sales research

When was the last time you were a detective and role-played Starsky and Hutch with one of the salespeople? I'm talking about actually going out in the field with the sales force and listening to how they uncover a prospect's pain points, build rapport, and move toward closing a deal?

When was the last time you were a detective and role-played Starsky and Hutch with one of the salespeople? I'm talking about actually going out in the field with the sales force and listening to how they uncover a prospect's pain points, build rapport, and move toward closing a deal?

When was the last time you were a detective and role-played Starsky and Hutch with one of the salespeople? I'm talking about actually going out in the field with the sales force and listening to how they uncover a prospect's pain points, build rapport, and move toward closing a deal? Or learning whether they are using the same key messages you are? If you're like most PR people, the answer is probably, "the 12th of never." That's because most PR pros have allowed themselves to be removed from customer/prospect interaction. Instead, we're content to rely on market research, guidance from the ad agency (grrrrr...), focus groups (which are flawed because dominant personalities skew the dialogue), or what the sales force tells us is important. This latter scenario is especially frightening considering, according to proprietary research we've performed with Sales & Marketing Management, nearly half of the salespeople surveyed admit they have no real idea what keeps customers up at night. Talk about the blind leading the blind! Here's another eye-opening statistic on a related topic. In a survey of the American Marketing Association's New York chapter membership undertaken by the AMA and Peppercom, 47% of companies polled said their core sales and marketing messages were not the same. How's that for sending mixed messages and confusing the marketplace? Do you know why the messages are so different? We've found that sales and marketing (or PR, if you will) often operate in separate silos. There can be an adversarial relationship between the two that can often lead to a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon. When the gap occurs, it's because sales sees marketing as a burden, adding to overhead expenses while providing little, if any, real value. At the same time, marketing professionals view salespeople as egocentric, lone wolves who have no respect for the corporation's positioning, messages, values, etc. It's in the best interest of our industry to close the gap between sales and marketing. We should push back from the conference room table, put the market research results down, and say, "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I personally want to hear what the target audiences are really saying." We should insist upon accompanying the sales team when they call on customers, former customers, and prospects. Just think how much more insightful our programs would be if we could ask customers and prospects how they get their news information or how they spend their leisure time? Suppose, for example, that you represent a financial services firm whose primary target audience is Fortune 1,000 chief financial officers. Up until now, you've implemented a conventional PR program whose media targets have included Financial Executive, CFO, Forbes, and others of that genre. But, now, after donning your deerstalker and venturing forth with the sales force, you've detected that in their leisure time, many CFOs read Men's Health and Wired. Armed with this new, firsthand intelligence, you retrofit the PR plan to include creative outreaches to these two publications. Maybe, you approach Men's Health on a breakfast roundtable series entitled, "Wall Street and fitness" that is co-branded by the publication and the corporation. Or perhaps you pitch Wired on a co-branded survey that examines the impact of technology on the CFO. Whatever strategy you do choose, you'll definitely impact the overall sales effort (and make yourself look good in the process). You'll break through to prospects in new, non-traditional ways. And, critically, you won't be competing for their attention with all the other financial services firms jockeying for traditional media exposure. Regardless of whether you choose a traditional, unconventional, or combination approach, your PR program should be based upon firsthand, primary research. Stop settling for what someone else tells you is factual. If you know a customer's pain points, as well as what he reads and how he relaxes, you can develop a much more precise, less traditional PR plan of attack. Taking the initiative also will produce a couple of other by-products. One will be a new level of respect between marketing/ PR and sales. The other is less tangible but, perhaps, even more important. The closer we, as PR pros, get to the customer or prospect, the more important and credible we become to the CEO. What subject do you think most CEOs would rather discuss with their PR officer or agency: a recent placement or some critical pain points made by a key customer in the field and the ways in which PR might be leveraged to solve the pain?
  • Steven Cody is managing partner and cofounder of Peppercom, and co-author of "What's Keeping Your Customers Up at Night?"

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