We are overwhelmed with information.
Like a tidal wave of alphanumeric characters, thought leadership content has overrun the world of business — swamping business executives with value messages wrapped inside blogs, posts, email newsletters, digital ads, and more.
Perhaps as a result of our quarantined world (and the associated lack of face-to-face contact), or simply because of the relative ease and efficiency of producing such content, we truly live in the era of selling via thought leadership. In fact, every day this month, buyers have been bombarded — according to Texas CEO Magazine, more than 7.5 million blog posts, 2 million LinkedIn posts and 100 million Instagram ads are sent flying through cyberspace in a single 24-hour period.
So, how much is too much?
Certainly, good, high-quality, focused thought leadership content can have a measurably positive impact on selling productivity — in fact, 88 percent of those surveyed in a recent study from Edelman Business Marketing and LinkedIn that such content can be very effective in enhancing their perceptions of an organization.
But exactly half of buyers say the information tends to be overwhelming — a truism that carries inherent risks. Information overload could cause your buyer to tune out.
Let’s start with an analysis of the three types of thought leaders in sales, based on research from Gartner:
- Giving — More is Better: This is the salesperson that simply can’t stop talking – they’re the ones that dominate the conversation, and, in the days of in-person sales calls, they are the ones that drop off a two-inch binder filled with information and catalogs on the product (The digital equivalent is someone who appends 15 attachments to an email). In this example, the client becomes overwhelmed and either doesn’t look at it at all, or flips through it very quickly.
- Telling — Experiences Alone: This is like the old Western movie archetype of the guy who drives the stagecoach across the plains, and at night, over the campfire, spends hours telling that “you know, in my day….” story. Though there’s great value in storytelling, if you make it just about your experiences, the client will become concerned that you haven’t done adequate research about how other buyers deal with the same information, or don’t have a broad enough set of experiences to draw upon in providing support to them.
- Sense-Making — What Matters Most: This is the favored type of seller in these days of information overload. Best suited to help reduce skepticism and increase confidence, they have the vision to help the buyer understand and focus on what matters most. Positioned as what we would call a “sales guide,” the Sense-Maker learns where the top portion of the thought leadership curve is (the point at which the buyer becomes overwhelmed) and stays in the zone of understanding and trust. A good sales guide knows the right questions to ask, and makes sure that the client is making a rational, educated decision versus going “on their gut.”
So clearly, being a sales guide can make your sales pros seem like an oasis in the desert – someone who brings order out of chaos. Making the transformation is not necessarily difficult, if you follow these three steps:
- Deliver information at key moments: In sales training, we talk a great deal about the buyer’s journey – how to get someone from not even thinking about your product, to the point when they are actively making a decision on working with you. In order to do this, we, as salespeople, naturally are trying to get people uncomfortable with their “status quo” as an impetus for change. However, if you’re selling a renewal or a second piece of business, it’s the opposite – how do I convince them that status quo is good, and that remaining with me is a great thing? In order to do this, we need to distill our body of thought leadership information and map it to where the buyer is in the journey – what do we need to answer right now?
- Enable self-service, sales engagement, or both: Throughout the pandemic, many buyers became accustomed to self-service – they had the ability to get the information they needed, as they needed it, on their own. We won’t be breaking them of those habits anytime soon, so it’s ideal that our website is organized in such a manner that they can find both the key pieces of information and data they need – so when the time comes for them to meet with us, we can pick up at an advanced point in the decision matrix and “pour on” the value.
- Be situationally fluent: As a sales guide, we need to be able to address the context, the concreteness, and the contrast of our messaging, so it resonates where the buyer is with their status quo. For example, if a customer says, “we’re thinking about making a change,” use that understanding of where they are in the buyer’s journey to share how what your company does – or what your industry does – to solve their current challenge, in concrete terms.
We hope your takeaway from this blog is this: Don’t give up on thought leadership as a means of connecting and resonating with your buyer; but take steps to make sure you’re not overwhelming them with tonnage (whether paper or bytes of data). Having good data to share isn’t enough anymore – it’s time to migrate the way in which we think about how we lead our customers on the pathway through the buying journey.