5 Questions To Ask For Strengthening B2B Brands
There are many canaries that will alert you to the potential for lethal gas in your proverbial B2B brand coal mine, but no bird is more effective at pointing to danger than a sales team that struggles to describe what makes your brand and your offerings different.
When Nortel Networks – too big to fail, everyone said – finally died, all the post-mortems concluded that a fatal problem was the deaf ears that senior management turned to the armies of sales people who reported challenges in the field. Customers weren't ordering. They were looking instead for new solutions, needing technologies to improve their competitiveness and beguiled by new market entrants with better, more relevant and exciting stories. Nortel was becoming an also-ran and nobody in charge listened. The result was inevitable.
Nobody is closer to the customer than the sales person. And if the sales people are struggling to sell – to give customers a compelling reason to buy – then brands, especially B2B brands, need to pay attention. Nothing is as serious as a sales team unable to answer the two big prospect questions: “What makes your company or product different?” and “Why should I buy your offering?”
The first line of attack is usually more sales training, more product training, more sales tools or more finger-pointing at marketing. Not being able to answer those questions, however, is more serious than poor pitches, leads or sales tools. It points directly to weakness at the heart of what your brand stands for – what makes it relevant and compelling to the right customer. It's not a product features problem. It's a brand problem. And it's not a sales problem. It's a leadership problem.
As a result, it demands special attention. Over years working with B2B brands, we've developed five initial questions to clarify the problem and that usually leads to some interesting insights about the business and its brand.
1. Do You Still Offer A Valued And Relevant Differentiation?
It seems obvious that the answer should be yes, but too often the answer is no. We can be so busy with the day-to-day firefighting of a business that it's too easy to stick to what made you special once and ignore the market changes around you. Eventually, your ideas of what makes your brand different have become old, irrelevant or standard.
If the answer is an honest yes, then move to the next steps. If it's an honest no, then STOP and rethink your offering and your brand. An undifferentiated brand is a dying brand and nothing will fix it otherwise.
2. How Extensive Is The Problem In Communicating The Brand?
Sales people – whether they are on the road or dealing with customers online – are the most vulnerable. They are the ones that bear the complaints, objections and tales about what great products and services your competitors sell. It's easy for them to lose focus, get confused or doubt their own story.
If it's just one or two individuals, then it's usually a problem specific to the individuals. If it's the entire sales team or even worse all your employees, then the problem is often one of features vs value. Time for Question 3.
3. Is Your Brand Stuck On Features Instead Of Value?
In the business-to-business world, it's all too easy to sell features instead of total value. The downside is that it's also easy for your competitors to sell features, and sometimes more features at a lower price, so it becomes hard for your sales people to explain how their product or service is different and relevant.
If your brand messages are also about features, then your sales people and employees will struggle to understand the brand value that they should be selling. That value is usually a package of related elements that together add up to something greater for the customer – it might be the ability to get to market faster, to reduce costs, to take risk out of a product, to provide a greater experience, to alleviate fear. Whatever your brand value is, it must be more than a list of features and your marketing efforts have to communicate that. That takes us to Question 4.
4. Is Your Brand Simple And Focused?
The more complicated your brand, the more difficult it is to believe in, communicate and sell it. strong brands are usually simple and focused with a clear message that matters to target customers. It's a matter of ignoring what you don't do well, and concentrating instead on the things that you do very well.
Brands as big as Apple or LinkedIn have simple, clear brand promises, and everything they do is about delivering on that promise. Brands as small as Klipfolio or PageCloud also have simple and clear brand promises that are propelling them to success because everyone in their companies is aware of why they exist and what they're trying to do for customers.
5. Is It Everywhere?
When it comes to your brand, your employees are your number one customer. If they don't understand the brand, if they can't communicate, sell or deliver it, then how will you get customers excited about it? A day of sales training or posters with your tagline on them is simply not enough to ensure that your employees absorb your brand promises and make them their own. It takes constant and consistent messages every day from the CEO on down.
Ultimately, it takes a culture of brand that compels the company to behave in ways that deliver the brand all the way from HR through to marketing, to product development and even to finance.
If you ask these five questions and have honest conversations about each one, then you will come out with a stronger brand, employees better at delivering value to customers and a more effective sales force.