The Master Key to Open Doors at Top Prospect Levels: Educational-Based Marketing
No silver bullet or magic potion can plant you in front of high-level decision makers. If you do not position yourself as a subject matter expert (SME), and enter the prospect company under favorable conditions, you’ll fail to create an opportunity for meaningful conversation with key decision makers.
You’ve read this declaration many times in my blogs, and in my book MERGE Simplify the Complex Sale, because it’s a core principle in the MERGE process. Forget sales pitches. I’m referring to approach, attitude and action directed at building a body of knowledge on your prospect so thorough that your recommendation penetrates status quo and opens your prospect to change.
Meaningful conversations occur only when your situational knowledge of the prospect’s business and industry solves issues that the prospect doesn’t know he has, and improve business in ways he doesn’t know he can. That means you need to bring to the table the analytical skills, creative problem solving, and frontline experience that comes from comprehensive training, extensive reading, and in-depth research on your prospects.
To reach the top of your profession, whether you’re in financial sales or professional services, and produce the results you want, you must make an enormous investment in continuous lifelong learning. I call this process educational-based marketing.
Research = Success
On pre-call planning, for instance, advisors must do qualitative and quantitative research on the prospect company to reveal subjects relevant to decision makers, and that create impact in your conversations. When you do your homework thoroughly, you automatically increase your comfort level and that of the executives and business owners with whom you meet. Put simply, research increases your success rate more than any other part of your selling process.
Key areas to effective research on prospects:
- Review company history, mission statement, and values. Understand what issues it faces as a company and industry. Know where the company stands relative to the competition.
- What’s the competitive advantage or disadvantage; what’s the competition’s edge.
- Review the company’s financial profile: Public companies, and some private companies, post data in Dun & Bradstreet reports. You’ll quickly learn areas for improvement.
- Study bios of the decision maker and key executives. Identify shared connections. Check out LinkedIn.
- Do online searches for reports, articles, studies that may indicate critical issues.
- As you research, begin to formulate ways the prospect can grow his revenues or reduce his cost or eliminate a risk. Quantify these formulations to move your conversations ahead.
A welcome benefit of early entry into a prospect company at a high level, the sales cycle shortens. In my experience you can improve your closing ratio by using educationally based marketing with your approach. You need to take your research and create white papers and/or reports that will help you have a meaningful conversation with your potential client.
Power of White Papers
Because your educational approach must zero in on issues the prospect faces, and not your products and services, he needs to experience your thinking through multiple channels. Create informative content to share with prospects through online and traditional marketing platforms. One of the most efficient paths to thought leadership is the well-researched and well-written white paper. Assuming you have reached the level of an SME, white papers help carry the ball to the goal line. Here are some examples of white papers we have created for clients:
- A firm specializing in bank-owned life insurance:
“How to Safely Exit the 5 Danger Zones Surrounding Community and Regional Banks.”
- For a broker dealer working with investment bankers focused on the banking industry:
“Community Banks + Mortgage Banks—Grow Loan Income in the Age of the Big Squeeze.”
- For a retirement advisor:
“Five Ways to Reduce Employee Cost While Making Them More Loyal.”
- For an executive benefit specialist:
“Five Ways to Attract and Retain High Performers in Your Company.”
For some white papers (think content marketing or educational-based marketing) we did surveys and interviews to gain collective perspective, and to understand what keeps prospects up at night. More important, you don’t sell in white papers, you educate, inform, and suggest worthwhile solutions.
You bake your solution into the content, which allows the reader to self-discover your alternative in a more authentic and natural way. Best yet, your white paper positions you as an SME or subject-matter expert.
Because an authoritative voice is far more persuasive than a sales voice, you can open doors with your piece of thought leadership, and reach up to a higher rung on the decision making ladder where strategic issues reign supreme.
Lead with your white paper. Use it as a tactic to reinforce your marketing strategy. Put it in front of the prospect at the initial meeting. The C-level executive or business owner will take notice that you speak his language. The door quietly opens and he’ll begin to help you quantify the value gap he faces, then you can help him create his buying vision. It’s a beautiful thing.
See you on the upside, and enjoy