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The Secret Ingredient to Achieve the Best Demand-Generation Results: Marketo’s Thought Leadership Interview with Michael Cannon


One of the greatest opportunities to generate more revenue from one’s marketing and sales investments is to improve the nurturing, scoring, handing off, and tracking of leads as they move through the marketing and sales funnels.

The secret sauce for dramatically improving the results of these demand-generation activities is a new category of Sales 2.0 software called marketing automation, of which Marketo is the fastest-growing.

The secret ingredient in the sauce is a new category of customer messaging called persuasive messaging. It’s the most clear, relevant, differentiating, and provable messaging one can create and is a key enabler of any marketing automation initiative.

In this interview, Jon Miller, Marketo’s VP of Marketing, talks with Michael Cannon, CEO of the Silver Bullet Group, and an authority on enabling B2B companies to engage customers with the most influential communications.

Jon Miller:  How is it that you became interested in both Marketing and Sales?

Michael Cannon:  By necessity is the short answer. After three years of selling, I was promoted to sales management. In that role, I found that a key area of focus was identifying and providing my teams with what they needed to win more deals. One of the things I quickly observed was that prospective customers were always asking us the same three basic questions, which were some versions of:

  • “Why should I meet with you?”
  • “Why should I change from the status quo to a new solution?”
  • “Why should I buy this new solution from your company instead of your competitors?”

Another observation was that the training, collateral, and sales tools that were given to the sales teams did not provide persuasive answers to these basic customer buying questions.

That’s how I got into marketing. My nights-and-weekends job was closing these gaps, meaning I created or drove the creation of the messaging and tools that enabled the sales teams to more persuasively answer the customer’s primary buying questions. The reward was that a lot more of my teams went on President’s Clubs trips and, of course, the job promotions that came with that.

JM:  Help me understand the connection between messaging and results.

MC:  If you agree that the business marketing definition of messaging is “a summary answer to the prospective customer’s primary and secondary buying questions – the key points that must be communicated to convince a person to engage and buy,” then the relationship is clear. Messaging is integrated into content via copywriting and the creative process and integrated into sales conversations by way of the communicator. Thus the more persuasive your messaging, the more likely it is that people will buy from you.

When you think about it like this, the big “ah-ha” is that messaging is literally “the fuel” on which all your marketing and sales engines run. The effectiveness of your messaging has a big impact on the results, or lack of results, of all your marketing and sales investments.

JM:  What do you think is the problem with most messaging?

MC:  Objectively, the problem is that most companies are using descriptive messaging to answer the prospective customer’s primary buying questions — and it’s not working. This style of messaging or communication is not effective, and there is a ton of research to support this assertion.

For example, take a look at this customer communication model. The product messaging category describes what the product does, what’s included, how it works, and what some of its key benefits are. It’s all the typical “content” in a product brochure.

What it does not provide is a persuasive answer to the prospective customer’s primary buying questions. What’s missing, as you can see from the map, is an entire style of messaging called “persuasive messaging”. This missing style of messaging enables the highly influential conversation that both Marketing and Sales need to have with customers. 

Now, I’m not saying that descriptive messaging is not good or needed. Clearly, it fills a communication need. The takeaway here is that Marketing needs to create both descriptive messaging and persuasive messaging if it wants to have more influence on the customer’s decision to buy.

JM:  What do think is causing this communication gap?

MC:  There are a number of reasons for the gap. The top three on the list are: The marketing profession does not use a framework to define the categories, styles, and types of customer messaging required for greater market success. Marketing also lacks a methodology for creating persuasive messaging, and a truly objective set of criteria to evaluate messaging effectiveness, prior to market testing or launch.

JM:  How can I assess if my current messaging is effective or needs work?

MC:  Beyond the typical market research, such as A/B testing, you can use objective evaluation criteria. For example, first determine the action you want the target buyer to take. Then define the buying question(s) that must be answered in order to achieve that action.

In Marketo’s case, you want the buyer to select you over competitive options. So the buying question is probably “Why should I select Marketo to automate my demand-generation activities rather than other competitors?” Now look at your messaging/content and ask yourself, “Is it a persuasive answer to this question? Is it clear, relevant, differentiating, and provable enough to win an order?” If the answer is “no” or “not really”, then you know your messaging needs work.

Another evaluation criterion is determining if you are answering the buying question from the product-feature, product-benefit, or customer-business objective perspective. Are you selling the oil drill, the hole in the ground, or the oil? Clearly, the goal is the oil. The drill and the hole are just means to that end.

Take a look at this list of objective evaluation criteria. The more of these criteria you use, the more persuasive the messaging will be.

JM:  What is the best advice for companies looking to improve their messaging?

MC:  From a strategic perspective, the change we are talking about is a paradigm shift in the way companies go to market. Today, most persuasive messaging is created by the sales teams, one rep at a time, one deal at a time. Or, worse yet, we give customers the descriptive messaging and then force them to figure out the answer to their “why” questions. What this means is that most of the cost occurs, and is hidden, in the salaries and time of the sales teams, plus lower win rates and less market share.

Take a look at this market research from many well-known analysts. It paints a vivid picture of just how much productivity and revenue companies are losing using their current go-to-market model.

To make this shift as an organization, tasking Marketing to close the gap is necessary, but not enough. Marketing must also reprioritize its investments, and/or obtain additional resources, plus learn a new skill. Conceptually, the business case is simple. What’s most efficient: the way we currently go to market or resourcing a few marketing professionals to also create persuasive messaging, integrate it into all the marketing deliverables, and leverage that investment across the entire marketing and sales organizations, including inside sales, outside sales, and channel partners? The right answer is pretty easy to see.

Beyond this, what I recommend is to start small and build up a series of wins by implementing one product at a time. For example, refresh the existing content (collateral, sales tools, sales support training, and lead-generation programs) and sales conversations for a product with persuasive messaging and see what happens.

When you give prospective customers a great answer to their buying questions and enable Sales to do the same, typical results include an increase in win rates of 10–15%.

JM:  How can persuasive messaging help us improve our content marketing and demand-generation results?

MC:  Another principle of persuasive messaging is that, in order for your messaging to be effective, it must be organized into 3-5 key points. So if one of Marketo’s objectives is getting marketing teams to switch from a mostly manual process to a mostly automated process, then the prospective customer’s key buying question that must be answered is something like “Why should I use software to automate my demand-generation activities?”

Thus the outline for your content should be organized around the 3-5 key reasons why making this change is a great business decision. You can have a separate piece of content for each reason, or sub-reason, and trickle the content out over time, with a summary at the end that links back to each piece for more information.

The same goes for demand generation. Each reason, or sub-reason, can be its own campaign.

What this approach provides is a logical framework for ensuring that every communication is a “silver bullet” — a persuasive answer to the prospective customer’s key buying questions.

 Resources to Implement the Most Influential Customer Communications

Michael Cannon is an internationally renowned marketing and sales effectiveness expert, best-selling author, speaker and an authority on enabling B2B companies to engage customers with the most influential communications. For more information visit silverbulletgroup.com.



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