The chances are good that if you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve experienced a time where your offering evolved past the messaging you’re showing to the marketplace. Maybe your former primary product has been surpassed by something new you’ve developed, or you’ve outgrown the smaller local partners you’re used to working with in favor of enterprise clients. When that happens, it’s a great moment of growth for your business—and it’s also an important opportunity to examine your brand and your positioning in the marketplace, to make sure they’re still aligned with the truth of your business.
Why’s that so important? Among other things, a lack of alignment between your business and its goals and your brand and positioning can cause major problems for your sales team. In this video, Business Development Manager Joe Mills talks about what it looks like when positioning starts to make the sales process tougher, and why fixing that disconnect is so critical.
What does it look like when positioning is disconnected with sales?
We actually experienced this issue at Element Three a few years ago. When taking intro calls with new prospects, often the prospect would treat it as if they were ordering off a menu—listing specific tactics like “a new website” and “lead generation with a paid media strategy” and then asking what that would all cost. It wasn’t in line with the consultative nature of the work we do best, where we learn about a business, diagnose the issues they’re really facing (rather than the more superficial pains they’re experiencing) and then build a strategy that solves those underlying problems.
The issue was that our positioning, the way we represented ourselves in the marketplace, didn’t match up to the way we actually work, so prospects didn’t know how to buy from us. That turned sales’ job into repositioning the business to explain that disconnect, then having to ask “now that you understand what we do, do you still want to work with us?” If the answer remained “yes,” only then could the real sales process begin.
Why does that disconnect matter?
Poor positioning can have a number of effects on the sales process, and as you may have guessed, they’re all negative. For one, it leads to a ton of wasted time for all involved. The process of realigning the prospect during a sales call takes time, time that would be better spent on actually getting to know each other and determining fit. Beyond that, it forces salespeople into having to spend time disqualifying prospects face-to-face who could have been disqualified much earlier in the process, if the positioning was sound.
All of that lengthens the overall sales cycle, from first conversation to close, if you’re lucky enough that the prospect actually is served by what you do. It makes it harder to predict when deals are going to close and, therefore, when you’ll need available capacity to do the work—an issue that we encountered all the time at Element Three, when we were going through this. All in all, it just makes the sales process a lot more difficult for the sales team. It’s harder to know who you should be talking to, it’s harder to know what you should be saying to them, and it’s harder to describe to prospects what your business does and how you can help them.
Based on the symptoms—longer sales cycles, inbound leads that aren’t qualified, and difficulty with effectiveness of prospecting—your hunch from the outside looking in might be that the sales team needs help. You might want to get them set up with a sales trainer or something like that, under the assumption they’re just not equipped to succeed. And you may be right, in whole or in part—but positioning might also be the culprit, and it’s worth a look. Ask yourself how people see you in the marketplace, and if they aren’t seeing the real you, you need to revisit how they see you before they ever come into contact with a salesperson.
So what does the sales process look like when positioning is actually aligned with the present state of your business? What does it look like when the brand is strong, and the marketplace understands your business? There are three main ways it helps.
1. Speeds up the sales process
When brand positioning matches a business's reality, it means that repositioning step can be removed from the introductory conversation. People enter the sales process knowing that they have a problem your business is uniquely qualified to solve, and they have a better understanding of how that process will work. That means that from first contact, sales and the prospect can concentrate on vetting out what the relationship might look like and have the right conversations from the right starting point. In short, you cut out the fumbling early stages of the process and jump right to building the relationship.
2. Allows for more directed qualifying conversations
I’ll use Element Three as an example again. Our mission is to transform brands and generate demand for their offerings. Does that statement get you excited?
If it does, then we’d be a good fit to work together. If not, then there might be other agencies better suited to work with you.
That’s direct. That’s a simple conversation to have, and getting to the bottom of that question pretty quickly qualifies—or disqualifies—a prospect. But if you enter into a conversation with us without any idea of what that actually means, that answer’s going to elude us.
In any prospecting conversation, there’s a chance that you’re going to reach a point where one side or the other decides that it’s not the right fit. We don’t do the thing that you want done, or maybe you’re too big or small a business for us to service appropriately. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, in our case, the conversation can pretty quickly evolve into talking about the other marketers in the area we really respect who would fit into what a prospect needs. But that process goes a lot more smoothly and quickly when we’re all speaking the same language, and that common perspective is driven by prospects’ exposure to and understanding of our brand and positioning.
Without that, the conversation becomes opaque and hard to navigate.
3. Gain a better idea of who you should be prospecting
An important part of your positioning as a brand is your audience. Who are the people your business should be partnering with? What are the problems you’re solving for them? What are the business environments in which you’re solving them—in short, who are you working with and how?
This is pretty obviously a one-to-one match with the people you should be prospecting from, and it lays out an outline of what you’re going to want to say to them. When your positioning is aligned with your business situation, it becomes a lot easier to tell a prospect “this is the kind of scenario in which we’re valuable—is that happening in your business today? And are you looking to solve it?”
Salespeople have quick, natural questions at their fingertips, rather than having to dig and dig to get to the reality of whether or not a prospect is a fit at all, much less a good fit.
Brand isn’t only for marketers
Your brand positioning isn’t just important for the marketing side of things. It builds the whole foundation of the way you interact with your marketplace, including (and probably especially) your prospects. If your sales team is experiencing friction in the sales process—the sales cycle is long, inbound leads aren’t qualified, prospecting is ineffective overall—looking at your brand might be the solution to what ails you.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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