How You Can Use Stories and Content to Connect with your Buyers, with David Meerman Scott [Episode 354]

Welcome to Sales Kick-Off Week!

Joining me on Day Five of the 2017 Virtual Sales Kick-off Week is my guest David Meerman Scott.

David Meerman Scott is a leading sales and marketing speaker, and author of numerous best-selling books, including The New Rules of Marketing and PR, Newsjacking, and more recently, The New Rules of Sales and Service: How to Use Agile Selling, Real-Time Customer Engagement, Big Data, Content, and Storytelling to Grow Your Business.

On Day Five of our 2017 Virtual Sales Kick-off the focus is on how you can use stories and other content to create value and connect with your buyers.

Key Takeaways

  • David started at a bond trading desk, getting real-time information and pricing, before the day of the web. Losing his job, by company acquisition in 2002, led him to make a career decision. He began writing, speaking, and consulting.
  • When David wrote The New Rules of Marketing and PR, its theme was that web marketing creates content for multiple people at once, and drives them to a buying process.
  • The New Rules of Sales and Service applies the same concept, but focuses on content the salesperson curates, to reach one buyer at a time.
  • Authentic storytelling first creates a narrative for your company, and on top of that, creates stories of value and interest to your prospects. Hire a journalist over a copywriter.
  • Creating interesting stories for our prospects, forces us to look beyond our products and our egos, to the benefits they present to our clients, with stories making clients into heroes.
  • A salesperson might curate existing content about one customer’s experience, and create a story for how a prospect might use the product or service to benefit their own clients.
  • Hubspot measures how people click through from one place to another on their huge site. E.g., 20% of the visitors to the Hubspot CEO’s bio page become paying customers. So, the salesperson needs to know how to approach these visitors.
  • Don’t just tie a new sale back to the original lead source. Find out what the customer also saw and read between the lead and the purchase — gain valuable insights.
  • You need different content for each buyer persona. A college needs one set for HS sophomores, one set for seniors, and one set for parents. Most schools provide one content set.
  • When someone fills in a form, follow the data to see how they got there. That shows their buyer persona, and what content you need to supply to them.
  • Understand how content is used today; be curators of content. Be active on social networks, and create content that adds value for your prospects.
  • Be much more responsive than you are today, to increase the business you bring in tomorrow.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul: Hello, and welcome to Accelerate. I am very excited to talk with my guest today. Joining me is David Meerman Scott, a leading sales and marketing speaker and author of numerous best-selling books, including The New Rules of Marketing and PR, News Jacking, and more recently, The New Rules of Sales and Service: How to Use Agile Selling Real Time Customer Engagement, Big Data, Content, and Storytelling to Grow Your Business. David, welcome to Accelerate.

David Meerman Scott: It’s great to be here, Andy, always wonderful to speak with you. Thanks for having me on.

AP: Pleasure to have you on. So just take a minute and fill out that introduction. How did you get your start doing what you’re doing?

DMS: I was really lucky that my very first job was in a bond trading desk, because bond trading is all about real time financial information. I was learning about things like Reuters and Dow Jones News, charting graphs, and real time pricing data before the web. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, I was exposed to all the ideas that we now have on our smartphones, before much of the rest of the world was and I was working in the real time news and information industry. Most of my most recent job was with a company called News Edge Corporation that was acquired by Thomson Reuters in 2002. I lost my job. I like to say the best career move I ever made was losing my job because that forced me to take a look at what I wanted to do. I ended up going out on my own writing, speaking, and doing some advisory work for emerging companies. That was back in 2002. Since then, as you said, I’ve written 10 books. Three of them are bestsellers, and my books are in 28 different languages. I kind of “lucked” into a career that prepared me brilliantly for what I’m doing now, but I didn’t know it at the time.

AP: Yeah, and The New Rules of Marketing and PR sold over a quarter million copies.

DMS: Yeah, way over actually. We’re pretty close to 400,000 copies in the English language and it’s in 28 – now 29 – other languages, so quite a few copies of books.

AP: Yeah, it counts as a success. So, let’s talk a little bit about The New Rules of Sales and Service. People are listening to this, and it’s the first week of a new sales year. I want to spend a minute sort of unpacking your The New Rules and Sales and Service. You start off the book by talking about how most sales organizations are run as if it’s still 1989. I would say probably 1889 might be more accurate, but there’s all this controversy about the value of inbound versus outbound leads, and how far customers through their buying process before they engage with sellers and so on. It seems like it doesn’t really make a difference.

DMS: Well, the bottom line as I see it is that buyers are now in charge. That was not true for decades, because it used to be that sellers had more information than buyers. For example, if you wanted to go buy a new car, you could read Consumer Reports, I suppose. Or, you could ask a friend or a colleague for advice. Ultimately, though, you had to kind of pinch up your pants, put on a scowl, and go visit with the dealership and have the salesperson educate you about that car you might want to buy. Today, we can go on the web and we can get tons and tons of information about a particular car we might want to buy. Part of that information can come from the either the auto maker or the dealer as well. Of course, the same thing is true with b2b products, with expensive products that you buy for your organization, and even just simple consumer products. So, because buyers are now in charge since they have near-perfect information, they can look at blogs of people who have that product and learn about it on review sites. They can go to your website and the website of your competitor, and it means that the sales process has really turned into a buying process. The organizations that understand this are the organizations who are more successful. I wrote The New Rules of Marketing and PR in 2005-2006. It came out in the first edition in 2007, we’re now in the fifth edition. When I was reading it in the beginning, I realized that marketing on the web is really about creating content. It’s about creating. At that time, it was blogs and YouTube videos, since YouTube had just come out. Now, of course, we also have the opportunity to use social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others. We can create infographics and all sorts of interesting things like that. That is creating content for multiple people at once. That’s what I call the new rules of marketing and PR. So I create a blog post and the intention is that it’s going to reach a group of buyers and drive them into a buying process. The New Rules of Sales and Service is really about applying that same concept of content creation, but more so calling it content curation. This way, an individual salesperson can use content – the same content in many cases – to reach one buyer at a time. To me, the way marketing and public relations has evolved is similar to how sales and service has evolved. For this discussion, it means that sales – similar to marketing – is being set up to where I’m reaching one buyer at a time instead of many buyers at once.

AP: And you sort of put that into the framework of authentic storytelling.

DMS: Yeah, so I’ve got these different bits and pieces. Storytelling, you know, it sounds frivolous. However, when I think of storytelling, I’m thinking of creating a narrative for your company. What is your whole company about? Then, create information that has incredible value from the perspective of understanding who you’re trying to reach and creating the stories that might be interesting to them. I actually believe that the best people to do that are journalists, because journalists are skilled at telling stories. Now, contrast that with organizations that use copywriters to create content. You know, copywriters are really good at creating product information. At a certain point in the sales cycle, product information is important. However, to drive people in the early stages of the selling process, it’s really important to understand their problems and create the sort of things that will drive them into that buying process. I call that storytelling. For example, Apple can tell a story about how wonderful their design is and create information that people will be eager to consume, whether that’s images or photographs or whatever it might be. Your stories align with the sort of organization you are.

AP: So, storytelling is really a topic that’s gotten a lot of focus recently in the sales space, both on a macro level, but also at an individual level with salespeople. It is the ability to establish one on one  rapport with a buyer using a story that’s something that they can relate to that talks about value they can receive from using the product or service you’re selling.

DMS: I think that’s absolutely right. I think that what telling stories forces us to do is tell stories that make the buyer into the hero and talk to them in a way that gives them interesting information, rather than talk about our products and services and what we do – which is inherently egotistical. So, what that means is a salesperson might curate content that was already created centrally for his remarketing department to deliver individually to individual different buyers. A salesperson themselves can say, “I’ve got this really cool customer and here’s what they do, and here’s how interesting their business is. Here’s the way that they add value to their clients. I really love them for this reason.” They can just generate an interesting story that they can relate to another customer that they’re trying to reach, and that’s a more human approach than talking about what your products and services do.

AP: And they’re stories that can be shared among multiple salespeople, so it doesn’t have to be that each salesperson needs to have their own.

DMS: Yeah, that’s it. That’s exactly right.

AP: So your next rule is talking about how big data enables a more scientific approach to sales and service. We’re seeing some of that. It just seems the way that big data serves us now seems to be more about holding the whip over the salespeople in their activity levels. How do you see it relate to the customer?

DMS: Yeah, a lot of people try to turn it around to actually think about it from the perspective of a CRM system or Salesforce automation system – the systems that many companies have, Those systems were originally designed so that the sales vice president can manage the people in their sales department and ask, “How many calls did you make today? How many net new people have you reached? It was made to measure those sorts of things. Where I think it can be incredibly valuable is if you understand how people are interacting with your website, how people are interacting with your social networking content. When people go to this particular page on your site, what does it mean? When people watch this particular YouTube video, what does it mean? These sorts of things really are incredibly easy. I mean, I say easy in the sense that the data is out there to measure and to manage. However, you need someone with incredibly developed skills around understanding how to make sense of data, and then use that to lay on top of the buying process. I’ll give you an example of that. I’m on the board of advisors of HubSpot. They’re a marketing and sales software platform. I was talking to them about this idea of big data, and how it can be useful. They said they measure essentially every single page on their massive website and blogs to see how people click through from one place to another, and that provides valuable information. Before we get into this, it’s important to know that it’s page by page on the HubSpot website. One thing they learned, which is incredibly surprising, is that 20% of the people who visit Brian Halligan, the CEO of HubSpot’s page become a paying customer. That’s an incredibly radical piece of information to know, because if you know that 20% of people are hitting that page eventually become a customer then you can lay on top of that information what you know about the content that you create for particular buyers of a product – in this case, a HubSpot product. Then you can say, “Okay, if somebody comes into our site, and they look at some basic content about what we do, and then they come back a second time, and they download this white paper, for example. Then eventually, if within the next several months, they eventually – among other places – go to visit Brian’s bio page on the website. That is an incredibly important indicator that someone is ready to buy and this salesperson needs to know that and they need to know what to do next. That kind of insight comes from massive crunching of data.

There’s a lot of organizations who manage and measure data, but only do it superficially. One of the examples of that I see all the time is where they tie the new sales back to the original lead source. A lot of companies do that. It says, “The first time we met this customer, it was because they visited this blog post.” Okay, great. That is a piece of information that’s better than no information. But what I want to know is, what else did they do? What other blog posts did they look at? What other content did they look at? What other things did they do while they were going through that buying process? That’s where it becomes incredibly interesting. When organizations do that, they can understand some unbelievably surprising insights. They can learn that there’s a whole bunch of incredibly valuable content that’s in the middle of the sales process. It might be particular blog posts or white paper. They never generate new leads, but are frequently in the process of somebody going from initial lead to actually buying the product. That way you know that one blog post was worth millions of dollars to you. You would never measure that if you were only going back to the original lead source, though, because it doesn’t generate a lot of hype or a lot of search engine traffic.

AP: So what you’re saying, which I think is really a crucial for people understand is that if you’re doing lead scoring, it’s not the aggregate lead score, it’s really the sequence potentially within which you’re accessing the content.

DMS: That’s exactly right. Also, the more complex and expensive your product is, the more people who have to evaluate your product there are, it becomes much more important to understand these concepts. Maybe for a real simple consumer product – think under $100 – this isn’t as important. If you’re talking about a $10,000 or $100,000 b2b product or consumer product that people have to do an incredible evaluation upon, this is essential. My daughter is now 23. She’s in medical school, but I remember when we were going through the process of looking for a college for her. She started doing research on college websites when she was a freshman in high school at 14-years-old, and it wasn’t until the end of her junior year in high school that she was actually going to apply. It’s a three year sales cycle. I wonder how many colleges actually measure and understand that – I bet zero. Maybe there’s a handful who are incredibly enlightened, but do you have information for a 14 year old who’s just beginning the process of understanding how to look through college websites to figure out where they might go?

AP: So many companies are clueless about how their customer is actually buying these days. You know, what you talked about with your daughter is analogous to someone visiting your website and bookmarking a page. They’re beginning to gather and build a case for something. You might have a salesperson out there saying “Well, this customer started their buying process, I’ve got to pick up the phone and call them.” No, they’ve been in the buying process for quite a while.

DMS: For a long, long time. Then, you know, you go to the average college website or go visit and they all act as if you’re going to apply tomorrow. It’s like, “Here’s your application process, are you going to apply for early admission?” You think, “Wait a minute, I’m 14 years old” or “I’m the parent of a teenager.” That’s a separate set of content. That’s another aspect of this idea of The New Rules of Sales and Services: You’re going to need separate content for different buyers – I call them buyer personas – and different people who are going to visit your site. So let’s go back to the example of this hypothetical university that needs to attract new students. You’ve got content for the very young, 14-year-olds who are just beginning to look for colleges, then you need content for people who are getting much closer who are ready to fill out applications. You also need information for the parents of those students and what they need to know. That’s at least three sets of content, but the vast majority of universities only have one set of content.

AP: Right. What you’re describing is a scenario that companies that are embracing the account-based sales and marketing approach do. The other ones that are more enlightened say, “Look, we’ve got a range of contacts. At various levels with them, and within the organization that has different requirements, so we’re going to have personalized messaging for each one of those.

DMS: And then, if they’re doing this big data well, then when someone does raise their hand in some way, whether they register or they download something, you begin to know who they are. Then you should be able to follow the breadcrumb trail that they create by looking at various bits of content, and you can learn an incredible amount from that. It truly becomes a well-oiled machine. You go from the company reaching many people at once and driving them into the process to thinking, “Now I’m an individual salesperson. Here are the hundred opportunities that I’m working, and I know for each one what the next step is for them based on what they’re doing on the website or what they’re doing by interacting with the content I’m selling them.” Then, the salesperson can act as a content curator, and they can be anticipating what comes next. If a person is in this category of buyer, they know what to do. They’re in the early stages of research. Therefore, this YouTube video is what they should be sending them. Then they set up some sort of a reminder in their Salesforce system or whatever system they use, not to just pick up the phone and bug somebody. Instead, they know that because someone has gone to this particular set of content, it’s really great to send them this particular YouTube video right now, because this is the sort of thing that they’re ready for based on our crunching of millions of sets of data of people who have done similar things. This is what we should be showing them right now. That can significantly shorten the sales cycle and get people much faster to the point where they’re ready to close, and then maybe even prevent them from doing the same process at another company that might compete with you.

AP: Exactly. Have you read the book called Absolute Value?

DMS: I’ve heard of it, but I haven’t read it myself.

AP: Well, they’ve actually proved in their research some of the things you’re talking about here.

DMS: Yeah, so my stuff is all anecdotal. I talked to hundreds and hundreds of companies and some of them are doing this and it’s like they’re whispering a secret.

AP: One of the things they bring out is given the trove of information that’s available online and the tools available – review sites, experts sites, discussion groups, and just playing Google search and so on –  that, unlike sort of the sense that our buyers, especially in complex sales, are overwhelmed by information. They’re saying, “Actually, it’s just the opposite. Given all these tools, buyers are very effective at gathering information and are able to perceive what the experienced quality of the product is going to be or the experience value.” They’re not overwhelmed. They’re actually moving ahead and moving fast. The other thing they found through their studies is that buyers who proactively gather information are more likely to act on it more quickly than received information. I believe that to be true, because they have calculated the return on the time they’ve invested in it. So you’ve gotta ensure you’re inserting yourself in that process.

DMS: Right. By definition it means that they’re likely to buy because they’re spending all that time. That means that that is the person you should be spending your time with as a salesperson rather than another freaking cold call.

AP: Well speaking of which, what are your recommendations? You know, as you look forward to 2017, what do you see as something the sales professional or the sales leader should be doing to continue to adapt to the new realities of selling what they do specifically in 2017?

DMS: Sure. So first of all, I think that salespeople need to truly understand how content can be used today, and how they can become curators of content to individual salespeople. We’ve talked about it a lot, but they need to understand what content they have available to them that’s created by the marketing department or other people in the organization and what content they might be able to find on their own, if it makes sense to do so. They need to really understand how content works, I would go so far as to say they should be active on social networks themselves, perhaps even creating content themselves. They could use photographs, Instagram, YouTube videos, a podcast, blogging – whatever it is, the more they understand about content curation, the better.

AP: I think also when you talk about the human touch in your book and the necessity to restore the human touch into sales, that this is one way to do that.

DMS: Yes, yes, that’s right. I think it’s important for sales management to understand that the skillsets of a great salesperson have really morphed in the last 10 to 15 years. It used to be that you would hire someone who is incredibly aggressive. The cliche is that you grab someone who is the president of their fraternity, typically a man – although it certainly could be women. I worked with some great sales women. But you hire someone who’s aggressive, who’s not scared to pick up the phone 50 or 100 times a day and cold call people and whatnot. Someone who will wrestle somebody to the ground and get them to sign on the dotted line. I remember that world, and I was in that world. That’s not what drives success today. What drives success? Today it’s brains, it’s being able to understand what that buying process looks like and anticipate what the next step is for each of your hundred or so prospects, so that you can help move them along that process. You can anticipate their needs and provide value to them. This is because, as we said when we first started our conversation, that buyer is in charge today. The buyer has more information than the seller sometimes, they’ve gone to other companies’ websites, they’ve gone to research sites, they’ve gone to review sites. You can’t snow them anymore. You can’t hide behind the fact that they have to come to you to gather the information. They don’t. They’ve got all sorts places they can go to get the information.

AP: I’m glad you brought that up, because – and you bring this out in the book and it struck a chord with me – due to the sort of information asymmetry that exists between buyers and sellers, sellers have to start telling the truth.

DMS: Yes.

AP: It really resonated with me in your book, because buyers can see right through claims like, “We can approve your close rate 400%” or something like that.

DMS: Yes, yes, exactly right. It is remarkable that companies are still doing that. I mean, I suppose there’s still room for the sleazeball that helps people who don’t do their proper research. I mean, it’s always amazing to me, that in a lot of towns – especially those on the outskirts of cities – there are still these classic used car lots. They’re independent, downtrodden used car lots. I always wonder, “Who goes there?” I think the answer is people who don’t know how to do the research to figure out how much they should be paying for a car and where the best place to buy a car. These are people who say, “Oh my gosh, I need a car. I’ve got $3,000. There’s a dealer right down the road, I’ll go talk to them.” There are still companies that can prey on those who don’t do the work to gather that information. But for the most part, anyone who’s going to be around and who’s going to thrive has got to understand that new buying process.

AP: Well, I agree. I think you raised the point that people that don’t take the time to learn the information, they’re who it’s going to. I think for other people, given the near universal access to information, they’re losing their power.

DMS: Yeah, no question about that.

AP: So, it has to be based on what you’re doing as a salesperson to help the prospect and the buyer make a decision.

DMS: Also, the market is going to real time, it’s going to instant engagement. I’ve read a bunch of different statistics that people have put out there, things like if you respond to an initial sales inquiry within one hour, you’re seven times more likely to close that deal. Anecdotal information from just talking with people proves those sorts of statistics out. Even in my own case, the office that I’m talking to you from right now is on the second floor of a small office building. I used to have an office on the first floor and I wanted to move my office from one floor to another, so I did a Google search for Boston moving companies, since I live in the Boston area. I got three results that looked reasonably promising based on the website. I reached out to all three. One got back to me within two hours with a price quote based on what I told them, the second one got back to me, by leaving me a price quote through email. Somebody else sent me a voicemail and said, “Please call me back.” The third company reached out to me 24 hours later with a price quote, and their price quote was actually cheaper than the first company that had got back to me. I went with the first company that got back to me though, because I expect that the company is going to do the work quickly and they value their time. So the idea of real time, the idea of speed, the idea of instant engagement means that when somebody is ready to talk, you’ve got to get to them now, this second. Not tomorrow, not after lunch, but right now, because the whole world has gone real time. If a prospect of yours changes the company they work for or the job title they have on LinkedIn, you should be the first person to reach out to them. So many people don’t use that real time approach, so I think that’s essential. Another aspect of that real time approach is that a lot more of this type of communication is going to mobile. We used to use desktops and notebook computers but now, most people are doing this kind of thing through their mobile device. You have to make sure that whatever content is created and curated needs to be friendly for mobile devices.

AP: I mean, 95% of the people listening to the show listen on a mobile device, so there you go. 5% go to a website.

DMS: Exactly. Bingo.

AP: The title of my first book was Zero Time Selling, and that was all about this responsiveness as a way to completely differentiate yourself from your competitors. It’s becoming even more important than it was when I published the book four years ago.

DMS: It is essential, absolutely essential. I would say if there is one fairly easy thing that either a company or an individual salesperson can do to increase the amount of business they bring in, it is to be much quicker than they are today. There’s no question in my mind that that’s going to be valuable.

AP: Okay, great. Well, David, thank you very much for joining us today. Really appreciate it. Tell folks how they can connect with you.

DMS: Thanks, Andy. It’s always wonderful to speak with you. We seem to have the same mind meld going on. My name is David Meerman Scott, so Google my name, you can find me. I’ve got actually a free ebook. It’s called Worldwide Rave. If you want to do a search for Worldwide Rave, it’s a book that’s completely free on Kindle and iPad and other places.

AP: And if you’re ever going to a conference and you see that David is going to be speaking, make sure you go. He’s an extremely entertaining speaker. You’ll always learn a lot. Also, you can learn a lot about his devotion to the Grateful Dead.

DMS: Yeah, we haven’t talked about the Grateful Dead.

AP: David, thank you very much. Remember, friends, make it a part of your day every day to deliberately learn something new – just as we talked about here today – to accelerate your success. It’ll be worth your time to invest in us just a minute and go to iTunes or Stitcher and wherever you listen and hit the subscribe button for this podcast. I’d also love it if you take a minute and leave a review on iTunes telling others how much you value these conversations with top business experts like my guest today, Mark Hunter, who shared his expertise of how to accelerate the growth of your sales. Thanks for joining me. Until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling everyone. Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you heard and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.com. For more information about today’s guests, visit my website at andypaul.com