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To Sell More, Tell The Customer's Story

This morning's post "Want to Sell Less? Pitch Your Brand!" explained why, when you're trying to sell, your firm's carefully crafted brand message is worse than useless because it tells the wrong story. If you're going to sell, you need something called a "field message" based upon your customer's story. Here's how to write one:

As any novelist could explain, every story has four essential elements:

  1. A protagonist who takes action.
  2. A plot objective that the protagonist is trying to achieve.
  3. An antagonist who (temporarily) prevents the protagonist achieving that objective.
  4. Supporting characters who help or hinder the protagonist.
In a brand message, the protagonist is always the company, the plot objective is making a sale, the antagonist is the competitor, and customers are the supporting characters who help the company to achieve greatness.

A field message is very different. In a field message, the protagonist is the customer, the antagonist is the challenge that the customer faces, and the plot objective is to overcome that challenge (i.e. solve a problem or achieve a goal.) In a field message, the sales pro (and the sales pro's firm) plays a supporting role, NEVER a leading role.

Think of it this way: when you're selling to the customer, don't try to be the hero who conquers the dragon. Instead, you want to be the wizard who gives the hero a magic sword.

For example, IBM has an extremely strong brand message, forged through over a century of success. It's the largest IT employer in the world, generates more profit than any other technology company, holds more patents than any other U.S. company, etc. etc. But that story, as impressive as it is, is just yada-yada-yada to anyone who doesn't work there. I mean, seriously, do YOU really care? I know that I don't.

What IBM's customers DO care about is the informal field message that IBM's sales pros have been implicitly using since the 1960s: "Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM." As any sales professional that has tried to sell against IBM can tell you, IBM's account managers are experts at creating solutions that play into their customer's story line. And they've been able to do that even when IBM's brand story was less than lustrous.

How, then, do you write a great field message? Essentially, you have to figure out the customer's story and then insert yourself into it as a key supporting character. For example, suppose your customer's story is that they've grown so fast that they're having trouble supporting all their new customers. If that problem is solved, then your customer contact will be a hero.

The "field story" then, is all about a highly successful company (the customer's firm, not yours!) that ran into a difficult problem but, thanks to a smart buying decision on the part of your customer contact and decision-maker, the successful firm continued to grow profitably.

That's the story that you should be telling, not the story about how YOUR firm used YOUR customers to overcome YOUR challenges. Nobody cares about that stuff except you -- and (if they're smart) the people who are selling TO your firm.

Once again, kudos to Dean Schantz of Corporate Visions for turning me onto this way of thinking about sales messaging.

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