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What's your most important sales tool when selling something complex?

I do a lot of work for B2B companies that sell really complex stuff. I interview their customers constantly.

And there is no question in my mind now that THE most important sales tool is something that isn't even on the radar of most marketers: the product manual.

I've been telling clients for years that there is no such thing as a "virgin environment." Someone buying something that is going into his existing environment knows that he has to make sure that it will work with all the other things in that environment.

Greenhorn buyers attempt to find that information on the website or even in PDF datasheets. They try asking salespeople. But the cognoscenti (the majority of your buyers) have been disappointed so often, using these methods, that they don't bother. Instead, they go straight for the manual, which they hope to find on the website in downloadable form.

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How Customers Choose a Product or Service: Debunking Common Marketing Myths - Part 2 of 4

Interviewing thousands of customers about their buying process has convinced me that while the buyer is attempting to buy something he wants, he is also determined to see through any deception or manipulation. Sellers are often convinced by gurus that manipulation is the right way to increase sales; it is a strategy that directly contradicts one of the buyer’s main goals: “I will not be fooled.” Here is Part 2 of a 4-part series, in which we examine how customers choose a product or service. Part 1 (How Customers Decide to Buy) is here, if you haven’t read it yet.

Once buyers have developed a need, they begin their buying process. They go online and do their research, and/or ask around. But just knowing that buyers go online, and having a website and a social presence, is not enough to ensure the buyer will choose you. You need to know

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Should we be replacing salespeople with Buyer Support Reps?


Continuous interviews of buyers have convinced me that buyers have become so successful in creating their own "recommendation engine communities" that they are now able to learn just about everything they need to know about a product or service, without reading a single word of marketing copy or without talking to a salesperson. 

In other words, customers are making marketing copy and salespeople irrelevant. In this article, I'll focus on the selling side.

Customers always hated talking with salespeople, but before the web, online reviews, and social media, they had no alternative. Now they can efficiently find people like themselves, with similar interests, who can steer them in the right direction. Marketers see social media tools as marketing tools; customers see them as their buying tools. And they are really getting good at using them. 

They can search online, visit relevant sites, read blogs, watch videos, ask for advice from social media contacts, read reviews by other customers and journalists, ask questions

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Managing individual salespeople

Is managing salespeople one of your most difficult tasks? If so, you’re not alone. CEOs who have few problems managing people in other positions still struggle with their sales department. 

Part of the problem is the kind of person who is put in charge of the department; I’ll cover that briefly later. It's also difficult to tell if the person running the department is doing a good job or not, because of the conflict between what that manager says (“Everything is going great! No problems!”) and disappointing sales figures. And lastly, the CEO may not know how to manage salespeople, even if he’s done a little selling himself. He’s not able to tell what’s being done right - or not. The bulk of this article will focus on solving this last problem.


What type of manager is running your sales now?


Almost all sales departments are headed by salespeople who have worked their way up through the ranks. Unfortunately, salespeople have some inherent weaknesses when it comes to management. They are not, by nature, logistically minded. They

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Why I'm Buying from John

I’m in the market for a business-to-business software product. I’m pretty far along in my buying process and I have narrowed down my choices to three vendors. I contact them all. 

Two of the three salespeople who get back to me are what I would call “typical.” They are cheerful, chatty, somewhat excitable, and they say things such as, “Let me be honest with you” and “No problem!” Half the time, I don’t feel they are really listening to what I’m saying, but instead are only thinking about what they will say next when I’m talking. I don’t have a good feeling about them being able to help me make a good decision. I can’t trust them. 

The third one, though, is different. His name is John. He’s serious. He’s thoughtful. He is strategic. He listens more than he talks. He

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Why you're not Steve Jobs: He was the ultimate Customer Experience perfectionist

I first published this article in 2012. But it was time to publish it again to address an unfortunate trend. Lately I have had several CEOs tell me that they had read the Steve Jobs book and, frankly, they are using his jerkedness to justify exercising, as a friend said to me recently, "their inner jerk." 

This is not the message we should get from Steve Jobs' life and legacy. It is not his jerkedness that we should be emulating, but his incredible ability to give customers the experience that they wanted, via "insanely great" products and superb customer support. Without these talents, Steve Jobs would have been just another jerk, and nothing more.


One scene, described in Isaacson’s book Steve Jobs, sums it up perfectly: 

"As usual Jobs focused on making the product as simple as possible for the user, and this was the key to its success. Mike Evangelist, who worked at Apple on software design, recalled demonstrating to Jobs an early version of the interface. After looking at a bunch of screenshots, Jobs jumped up, grabbed a marker, and drew a simple rectangle on the whiteboard.

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Content Management Company CEO Calls 100 Customers. Learns What Customers Want. Gives It to Them. Revenue Goes Up.

Frank Dale is the CEO of Compendium, a fast-growing content management company. Just before he became CEO, he did something all CEOs should do: He interviewed customers. But he didn’t just interview a few; he interviewed 100. In my mind, this puts Frank in a very special category.  

Compendium started out as a blog content management platform; as they’ve grown, the platform has expanded to include all types of marketing content, including content for social channels. 


There are a lot of things about the Compendium tool that make sense from the marketer’s perspective - including how the marketing calendar is designed. Each entry in the calendar appears in red, orange or green. Red means the marketer hasn’t gotten the draft; orange means it’s in review, and green means it’s ready to publish. At a glance, you can see which projects are on time and which ones are behind. You can also know, over time, which of your content authors are habitually late or on time. You can use that information to publicly motivate your authors to do the right thing.

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5 Ways to Blow the Sale with the First Contact

I recently posted a freelance web development project on a web development job board. Most of the responses, unfortunately, were perfect examples - of what not to do. 

Since a lot of sales these days start with “virtual” contact, it’s instructional to see how these guys blew it - and what you can do to make sure you do it right. 


You don’t want to do these five things.


1) Don’t send an email filled with typos. Most of the messages were, unfortunately, filled with typos. 


The customer’s reaction: I’m not just looking for someone to fix one site. I’m looking for someone who can be a potential long-term vendor, someone I can refer my clients to. If you don’t even pay attention to details when you’re trying to impress, no way am I going to trust you with my own sites or refer you to my clients.

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Is your weakness a gift to your competitors?

Everybody has their weaknesses. But when you become a leader, you really have to leave yours behind. 

The most effective, successful leaders make a point of finding out what their weaknesses are and attack them. They do everything they can to become strong where they were once weak. These people are very rare. 


The more usual leader avoids addressing his personal weaknesses. After all, he is the big cheese, right? Admitting the weakness would run contrary to how he likes to see himself. It’s easy enough to blame the ensuing problems on others. He doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal, and he is not willing to push himself.


The weakness is often rooted in a mode of behavior that worked when the person was around five years old, but has become counterproductive now that the person is an adult. These inappropriate, childish behaviors in a leader affect the performance of the entire company. Employees dread coming to work and dealing with the consequences of their boss

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Comfort is your real product; your character is where it comes from

The entertainment industry tends to portray people in business as greedy, selfish jerks. I spent a number of years in that industry, and I can understand why they think that way. Most of the people in power in that particular industry really are greedy and selfish.

Any industry that requires you to be thinking of yourself 24/7 tends to attract a certain type of person. I decided to leave show business because I knew that if I stayed in it, I would be ruining my chances of being the kind of person I wanted to be.

But the "jerk quotient" can also increase as companies grow. I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs and other managers running companies of all sizes. There's no question that the bigger the company gets, the greater the possibility that it will be filled with jerks, unless the founder is absolutely devoted to customers and employees.

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Metrics can tell you what, who, and how, but not why. And why is all that matters.

Thanks to site tracking, cookies, and A/B testing, you can monitor and analyze what any person does on your website, and how they respond to your content. So why are companies still struggling to produce content that helps them sell? 

Because metrics can tell you what, who, and how, but not why. If you don’t know the why, you don’t know what you have to do to sell more.

I’m writing this post because I feel sorry for all the companies that waste so much time and money on websites that don’t move the revenue needle. I am saddened to see managers being misled by their tracking results. I’m tired of everyone thinking that A/B testing is the end-all, when it never tells you the all-important WHY. 

All of this weblog analysis and A/B testing, if not coupled with real-customer-interview research, falls into the same old stupid category of

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How Customers Want to Be Contacted: Debunking Common Marketing Myths - Part 3 of 4

The majority of CEOs and entrepreneurs still think that yesterday’s aggressive, cold-calling, hard-sell methods are still working. The truth is, using these tactics is more likely to irritate and repel your customer than to make them want to buy from you. How do customers want to be contacted? We answer this question in Part 3 of our 4-part series debunking common marketing and selling myths. If you arrived late to the party, here are Part 1 (How Customers Decide to Buy) and Part 2 (How Customers Choose a Product).

You just sat down to dinner. Your phone rings. You answer it, and a motor-mouth, angry-sounding recorded voice starts yelling in your ear, telling you that “you have been chosen,” or that “your credit rating may be in danger,” or that “[So-and-So Candidate] has an urgent message for you!” Click. Back to dinner.

Who on earth are they selling to? Forrest Gump? Someone who will patiently wait through the entire message, and then innocently give his credit card information to a call-out-of-the-blue telemarketer? It

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How to Beat Your Enemies

In your business life, you encounter several types of enemies. 

There are competitors, who are fighting for the same customers you’re going after, coming up against you in deals, telling those customers all about your weaknesses, and doing their best to “position” themselves against you. 


There are bosses or other people in power (such as investors) who have decided they don’t like you, and will do what they can to replace you with one of their people.


There are employees who continue to work for you but who don’t enjoy doing so. They make sure everyone (except you) knows why.


There are bureaucrats who, for their own seemingly nonsensical reasons, take actions that could put you out of business. 


And yes, there are even customers who have decided that you are doing a terrible job and take it upon themselves to give you a black eye out in the marketplace.

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Rude! The Language of Marketing and Sales

"Overcome their objections."

"Establish a relationship."

"Target market."

"Convert them."




These phrases are the lingua franca of marketing and sales. And they are rude! Offensive to the very people they are referring to - the very buyers who are considered "the target market." And they are a symbol of all that is wrong with marketing and selling right now.

Let's take off our selling and marketing hats for a moment and look at these words from the buyer's perspective.

Objections. I don't have objections. I have valid concerns because of negative experiences with sellers. I've heard all the promises before. When I've believed the promises and bought, I've discovered how they were lying to me.

It's no big deal when the disappointment involves small, inexpensive decisions. But it is a very big deal when my career or my business or my family's financial future is on the line. That's why I have learned not to trust the fancy promises. I have learned to doubt, and to question, and to talk to my friends (or working peers). It's easier than ever to talk to other buyers or read what they've written online; I can gather a lot of data from talking to them before I ever talk to a salesperson, visit a website, or even go to a search engine.

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What To Do When Your Content Is Ripped Off

The other day I stumbled across a link to an article entitled, “10 Questions You Should Ask Your Customers to Understand Them Better.” Of course, you know I had to click on that article, which appeared on Andrew Hunt’s Inbound Sales and Marketing blog. 

The minute I began reading I knew I was reading words that I had written. I quickly scrolled down to the “10 questions” – and there they were, the very same questions that I developed conducting thousands of customer interviews. 

It’s a bad feeling when this happens, when your copy – especially copy that came from so many years of hard-earned experience – is staring back at you from a website or blog, and your name isn’t anywhere to be found. 

In this case, the entire article was lifted directly from my book, Roadmap to Revenue. Unfortunately, this is the second time this has happened. Andrew had done the same thing with another article, last year, copying a sidebar from my book and making it look as if it were his own. In that instance, we had exchanged emails and talked on the phone; he assured me it would never happen again. But it turned out he had also copied my content and another author's content (

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"Why Aren't You Selling Us the Other Stuff We Need?"

I just finished interviewing a very smart customer for one of my clients. He’s a high-level manager in a tech company, a buyer of my client’s business services. 

During the interview, he explained how there were always two forces working against my client’s services: the comparable cost of accomplishing the same services in-house, and the fact that this customer is constantly pitched by competitive firms. 

Every so often, his own manager comes in and asks, “Are you still getting value for your money?” The customer is expected to have proof at his fingertips when that happens. He wants to be able to say, “Yes, they accomplished X last quarter for Y dollars. If we tried to do the same thing in-house, it would have cost us Z more.” Or, “Yes, last month they figured out how to improve on the automated portion of this process, and now we are getting that part done twice as fast, with fewer bugs. They also told us about a new tool they

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How Customers Want to Be Treated: Debunking Common Marketing Myths - Part 4 of 4

CEOs and entrepreneurs tend to pay very little attention to the customer’s experience, as I mentioned in a recent article about Steve Jobs. They focus on product development, managing the people, business relationships, regulations, financials, and marketing. And yet, it is the customer’s experience that causes customers to recommend a company or warn others to stay away. It is the biggest sales driver or sales deterrent associated with the company. In this article, the last in our 4-part series, we answer the question, “How do customers want to be treated?” Here are Part 1 (How Customers Decide to Buy), Part 2 (How Customers Choose A Product), and Part 3 (How Customers Want to Be Contacted), for the late arrivers.

If I were to ask you about a recent experience you had as a customer, dealing with a company, you’d have plenty to tell me about that experience. You

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Voice of the Customer research that actually convinces the CEO to do the right thing

As a revenue coach, I do not consider my work successful until sales start going up. And sales will not go up until the CEO and other top managers make the mental shift from company-centered to customer-centric. 

Traditional methods of customer research do not flip that switch. I know, because I’ve seen them all fail: focus groups, online surveys, email surveys, and so on. 

Social media also belongs on the “fail” list. Executives believe that they are hearing what they need to hear from customers via that channel, but they’re not. Social media channels are dominated by ravers and whiners. The bulk of any company’s customers fall somewhere in between. They suffer, or walk away, in silence. 

This is especially true in the B2B markets, where people are cautious about what they say in social media channels - including LinkedIn. They know perfectly well that their bosses, competitors, and potential employers have access to those messages, and they are very careful what they talk about and how they say it. So the messages that companies get from social media don

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The salesperson's first test: Making an appointment via email

We all use email to agree on a meeting time. Unfortunately it’s terribly inefficient, especially when it’s done incorrectly. A salesperson who is sloppy about it will drive the new, potential client nuts and make the client wonder if she really wants to do business with the salesperson. It is the salesperson’s first test. You’ll want to pass it.

Here’s an example of good form:


Hi, Judy. 


I understand you want to see a demo of our SuperBigProgram. 


I’m able to do this with you at these times - all EST. 


Mon April 8 from 2 - 5 EST

Wed April 10 from 11 - 3 EST

Fri         April 12 from 9 - 12 EST


Please let me know if anything works for you within these ranges, or suggest another day/time. I will send you an invite with a link to the WebEx meeting. [Or, if it is a phone call:

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Social media, email, and the stench of over-saturation

My inbox is so full of "fake friends" these days that I use a web-based mail portal to delete their messages - and all the other messages I don't want - before I download my mail to Outlook throughout the day.

You can tell by the subject line that it's not a real friend. My real friends would never put "Mrs." in their email address, and they would certainly not say, "For Your Kind Attention," nor would they say, "Your" when they meant to say "You're" as in, "Your going to love this!"

These emails are so lame. So boooring! And they have ruined email as a marketing vehicle for those of us who are legitimate marketers. The problem with all channels - all through marketing history - is that they always get saturated by the hucksters.

Howard Gossage was a brilliant ad man, back in the day. He was a quirky genius who thought out of the box and was definitely ahead of his time. For a high-end shirt company, he offered potential customers a sample - a hankerchief-sized piece of cloth with a pocket on it and a buttonhole, so the potential customer could experience for himself how well those shirts were made. When he had a gas station franchise company as a client, he advertised that their tire-filling equipment dispersed pink air. He told long, fascinating stories in ads for a liquor company that literally put them on the map. He and his friends started the entire message-on-a-T-shirt craze by inventing the first Beethoven sweatshirt for Rainier, the ale company.

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