Want to separate your signal from all the noise and get the full attention of senior decision makers?
Then bring them striking and distinctive insights — new perspectives that offer a new way of looking at their world.
So what is a Signature Story? It’s a far-reaching narrative
that cuts across the stages of a buyer’s decision cycle.
Your Signature Story should offer a proven path
forward. It should reflect your vision of what lies ahead.
But the success of your story, more than anything, revolves
around its ability to motivate a buyer to change. You have to vividly clarify
the potential consequences of sticking to the present state.
With this in mind, here are three key criteria to keep in
mind when developing your Signature Story.
- Provoke, Engage and Clarify. The only way
you’ll get attention is by offering a new perspective that speaks to the key
concerns and interests of your targeted decision maker. You have to offer valuable insights -–
revealing risks and opportunities that were previously unknown (or
- Create a Sense of Urgency. It’s tempting
to leap ahead to the great promise associated with your solution. But that
won’t get you where you want to go. You have to create urgency by clarifying why the current
state is somehow risky and unacceptable. You have to get to the hidden costs and
consequences of the problem.
- Craft through Consensus. It doesn’t
matter how compelling your message is if your product, marketing and selling
teams aren’t unified and bought in. And they aren’t going to buy in unless they
participate in the actual creation of your story. You want to get your key stakeholders and influencers in a room and drive consensus.
Ultimately, your Signature Story lays a foundation for creating
an array of messaging assets -– assets that support both demand generation and
sales outreach campaigns.Indeed, you’ll create actionable assets that your people will actually use.
This is a far more cost effective and better performing
approach than creating content in a vacuum, especially considering that 80% of today’s assets go unused by sales in the field, according to the American Marketing Association.
Instead, you’ll create an expansive story that’s fully modular, making it easy to make it relevant. You can unbundle and repackage your
story in many ways –- creating content for many different interactions and
But it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not your story alone. When you craft a story that captures the imagination of your buyers, it becomes theirs as well.
In this dizzying and distracting world of big data, what
your prospects truly value is the big picture.
With time demands and economic pressures greater than ever,
there's a tendency for perspectives to narrow and attention spans to shrink.
It's easy to get mired in the details and contained in a box. Your prospective
buyers often know they’re not performing at their optimum but they're not sure
what to do about it.
If you're going to have a compelling conversation with them,
you'll have to start by setting context. You'll need to widen their frame of
perception to identify issues, concerns and consequences of which they may not
have been aware. As Dan Pink suggests in his new book To Sell is Human,
you must be a problem finder and not merely a problem solver. But you do have
to show how problems are solved and what a better future might look like.
Just remember: you may not have much time to do these things
because your prospects don't have much time to give you anymore.
In the past, your sales people might have engaged in what
I'll call the long interrogation. They would've asked dozens of
questions with the defensible claim that one must diagnose before prescribing.
As a sales professional, you would ask your prospects what they wanted so you could
give it to them. That was the heart of solution selling.
This no longer works –- or at least, not nearly as well as it
once did. Your prospect is looking at his or her watch the minute a conversation
begins. The clock is ticking. What will you do?
If you want to engage your prospect and win the deal, you
need to think different.
You must offer a concise, compelling and provocative
perspective. You’ll need to share insights that clarify why the current state
may no longer be acceptable -– and show the potential costs and consequences of
standing still. Before diving ahead and explaining the glorious future
associated with your proposed solution, you'll have to dwell on the unpleasant
Still, you don't have that much time.
You'll want to vividly and visually show contrast between
this present state and a future state that lies ahead. Just make sure you spend
a sufficient amount of time exploring the pain and problems you think your
prospect might be experiencing in the absence of your solution.
You need to
share insights with respect to what you have experienced as an expert who works
with others that resemble your prospect. And your prospects will most likely be
interested in hearing what others like themselves are experiencing or have
But, again, the clock is ticking.
This is where we come to the rapid reveal. If you’ve
visually and vividly presented your story in an effective way, then you gave
your personal briefing in less than 10 minutes – perhaps closer to 5.
You have provided a backdrop for a conversation. You’ve
shown the contrast between the present unpleasant and an impressive future. But
you’ve done it in a concise, memorable and repeatable way.
You’ve set context for a deeper conversation. You’ve built
trust and confidence. And you’ve established your authority as an expert in
Now, you have an opportunity to engage your prospect
further. By presenting relevant and provocative insights in a rapid fashion,
you win permission to probe further and clarify what your prospect values most.
You’ve reset the clock and earned the right to move to the next stage.
Great journeys generally begin with maps. Maps provide a visual and clarifying representation of where you are, where you are going, and how you will get there.
Before the world was well charted, few people would dare to embark on long journeys. They feared being devoured by sea monsters or falling off the edge of the earth. Not knowing what lay beyond the horizon, they were generally unwilling to find out.
Early maps of the sea had serpents and dragons and so forth. They had all of the terrors and turbulence you might experience once you set sail. They represented a warning. But other maps spoke to the glories and treasures that awaited you. Maps were a call to adventure.
And then, in the 16th century, there was a renaissance in map making to coincide with an age of exploration. Consider the map produced by a German named Waldseemuller. His map was the first to actually use the word “America.” Unaware of the full accomplishments of Columbus when he created it in 1507, he mistakenly named the New World after another explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. The map brought a new perspective –- a new world view -– and inspired others to make their way to these newly discovered continents.
Of course, maps can also bring clarity. They help you orient your enterprise, plot a demanding course, and travel extraordinary distances. In fact, the constant refinement of maps would provide guidance and eventually enable the crew of Ferdinand Magellan to circumnavigate the globe in 1522.
Maps can even be a source of competitive advantage. They give you a view of the world that your rivals do not possess – at least for a time. In fact, Sir Francis Drake’s maps of North America were kept in secret for up for 10 years after his adventures because the Queen of England realized his discoveries offered insights best not shared with competing nations in Europe.
But let’s bring this back to you. Your map is a visual representation of the story you wish to tell. It starts with the present and moves to the future –- the contrast of what’s now and what’s next.
And, if your cartographic efforts are truly compelling, you will encourage others –- your potential customers, potential crew mates, and other stakeholders –- to share the adventure with you. Your map will incite and inspire.
Consider what a truly powerful map might mean for you and your organization. Your map can be a call to adventure, a source of clarity, and a source of competitive advantage. Just imagine where it might take you.
There has been an enormous wave of interest in Content Marketing in recent years. We’ve climbed to the top of Gartner’s Hype Cycle –- the “peak of inflated expectations.”
Or, perhaps, we are dropping down into “the trough of disillusionment.”
“I predict this industry will get worse before it gets better,” contends Joe Pulizzi, head of the Content Marketing Institute. “With a flood of practitioners from all sides (many of them lacking a clear understanding of Content Marketing), there will be a deluge of really, really bad content.”
To understand what’s happening, it helps to consider the advice that many Content Marketing consultants and agencies are proffering to their clients.
Quite often, they are pitching a concept that can be referred to as a Content Grid. The idea is that different personas (or constituents) should be mapped against a series of decision stages. (Want added complexity? You might even put industry verticals on a third axis. Now you've got a Content Cube.)
You then are supposed to take your grid (cube) and begin populating it with content objects of various kinds.
But here’s the problem: this approach is ultimately paralyzing –- and, increasingly, demoralizing. You quickly realize you have a lot of work to do to fill out the grid. You get immersed in an endless series of tasks to feed an insatiable engine of awareness and demand generation: Where’s the white paper? The e-book? The viral video? The podcast? The info graphic? How about those blog posts?
Indeed, proponents of all this grid-grinding aspire to see “the right content created for the right customer at the right buying stage in the right package.” It’s as if they intend to anticipate every possible buying need or decision and address it with the relevant content artifact. Just let buyers diagnose and solve their own complex problems.
No doubt, this approach creates lots of work for agencies. It’s a full employment scheme. But what about the outcome for the client? It seems, increasingly, that strategy gets overtaken by tactics. Content production becomes an end in itself. It becomes unclear how the content that’s produced is truly facilitating buying decisions –- or setting the stage for effective sales conversations.
You begin to experience Content Gridlock.
Not only is it extremely costly and difficult to create (and maintain) this volume of content, it’s even harder to make it compelling. Expectations then begin to eclipse content production capabilities. Social media and demand gen specialists start calling out for powerful content that simply is not forthcoming.
The stuff that is being pumped out is hardly provocative, insightful or worthy of being called thought leadership. In fact, the problem is further exacerbated when sales conversations bear no resemblance to the material produced by marketing.
And, should the results of awareness and demand campaigns prove disappointing relative to the content production investment, the credibility of Content Marketing is called into question. And this is where the backlash begins.
But it doesn’t need to be this way.
Indeed, research from the ITSMA finds that today’s IT buyers value the same forms of content across all content stages. Most specifically, they place great value on industry research and analysis, proof points (case studies, ROI/TCO, etc.) and industry/business best practices.
The takeaway is that companies gain most by investing in core content that is extremely relevant as opposed to lots of content that is of marginal value.
Julie Schwartz, senior vice president of research and thought leadership at the ITSMA, agrees that marketers need to get off the Content Grid. “I think content creators have to think more about the questions that people have as they go through the buying process and what content is needed to answer those questions,” she says.
Most importantly, buyers need to understand why they would want to change and what new directions they might take. That’s why it’s critical to have a compelling point of view -– an insightful and unifying perspective that challenges current thinking and provides context for making a buying decision in the first place.
You need a Signature Story that anticipates the key questions that will emerge in the buyer’s journey. Among them: Why should I pay attention? Why should I change? Why should I act now? Why is this solution relevant? Why might you be the right solution provider?
So consider this alternative to today’s grid-grinding:
- Design Your Signature Story. Recognize that you can produce a overarching and unifying story that addresses the key questions of many decision influencers at many stages of a decision. You want to widen your prospect’s field of view -– not narrow or constrain it by thinking in terms of discrete chunks of content. Understand that it is the story’s dramatic elements -– most especially, the striking contrasts between problem and solution, breakdown and breakthrough –- that will initially engage your prospects and provide context for an ongoing conversation. Your Signature Story provides an expansive view –- inviting your buyer to see themselves at the heart of this narrative, heroically addressing their purpose and pursuing their objectives.
- Engage Both Selling and Marketing Teams in Signature Story Development. Your point of view or Signature Story cannot be created in a vacuum — or in an isolated silo. Instead you need consensus and commitment among the people responsible for carrying your story forward. They should collaboratively participate in story development. You can’t simply hire a stable of writers to write on behalf of everyone else. You won’t create a unified (and unifying) point of view this way. You won’t create conviction among those entrusted to engage prospects, close deals and grow the business.
- Leverage Your Signature Story Across Channels and Buying Decision Stages. Once you've developed a core, consensus-driven point of view, you can leverage it many times and in many ways. This is how you maximize the return on your positioning and messaging investment. You incorporate your point of view into your PR and social media efforts. You infuse it into your demand gen and sales enablement initiatives. It's reinforced on your web site and on partner portals. But don’t obsess over media or content types. Pick a few and focus. Test and learn. Don’t overcomplicate the endeavor. Just ensure your story addresses the key questions likely to arise in the course of a buying journey.
Finally, don’t expect a Content Marketing effort to do all the work. You have to guide your buyers through the decision process — and your sales team has an active role to play as both problem identifiers and problem solvers. While content can strike up conversations, content does not replace conversation -– at least not when you are engaged in a high value, high stakes sale.
Contributed by Lee Sellers, Principal, Visible Impact
Many marketers and sales managers are focused on “BANT-qualified leads.” These prospects have met certain criteria (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing) and are mature enough to be sent to sales. What could possibly be wrong with this attraction to BANT? Let's start with the basics.
The success of any marketing organization is ultimately tied to the success of sales. Generating high-quality, actionable leads is often perceived to be the fastest route to sales success. But simply layering filters onto a list of potential purchasers does not necessarily result in a higher close rate.
Consider a “partially” qualified prospect: One that meets 3 of the 4 criteria (e.g., budget, authority and need). A lack of timing should be the easiest variable to impact, assuming your sales team has the tools to create a sense of urgency in the prospect’s mind. Is budget the missing qualifier? Again, a sales team armed with visuals showing how your solution delivers efficiencies, ROI, security, etc., can shift a conversation away from budget and back towards need and timing.
In a funnel-driven marketing and sales organization, a formulaic approach to capturing and converting leads often ignores the dynamic that a consensus-driven marketing and sales strategy can deliver. Consensus, in this case, revolves around agreement on message and the definition of a qualified lead. However, too often the process of generating and qualifying leads is separated from the sales engagement that is needed to transition a prospect into a customer.
Beyond that, however, is the approach used to engage the BANT lead. Frequently, the sales rep following up on a lead has very little knowledge of how the lead was targeted, how it was qualified, and what messaging was used to generate interest in the first place. Not having continuity of content in the sales cycle can often be a barrier to closing a deal.
Before embarking on yet another BANT-driven lead generation campaign, consider these steps:
1. Drive consensus between sales and marketing. Before beginning any lead generation campaign, make sure marketing and sales leadership have provided input into the targeting, qualifying and messaging components of the campaign. Speaking to prospects with a unified point of view provides a stable platform for communicating to the marketplace and emboldens your sales team.
2. Drill down on the qualifiers. Do you really need all of the filters you are using? If so, make sure the data supporting their inclusion are up to date. Too often, marketing managers are goaded into including additional, costly qualifiers by their lead generation rep, not because the qualifiers have driven past results. Additionally, be sure that there is agreement across marketing and sales as to what an ideal prospect looks like. These criteria can change regularly (even quarterly) based on sales goals, new product introductions, and competitive pressures.
3. Create a sense of urgency. Your greatest competition is the status quo. The fastest way to leapfrog your competition is to create a sense of urgency in the mind of your prospects and move them away from “no decision.” Having a consensus-built point of view and a unified understanding of the target decision maker and their objectives is the first step to creating a sense of urgency. Some additional steps can be found here.