We’ve all heard the stats about the rise of the “self-service customer”: the one that has completed more than half of the buying cycle before they ever speak to a sales rep, and in some cases, knows more about your product (and your competition) than your employees do.
Many observers have interpreted this trend as a signal that the salesperson’s role will be diminished, or that (gasp!) salespeople as we know them today, are dead. Many of us are not prepared to buy into this apocalyptic view of the future of sales, but there’s no question that the role of salespeople, and the expectations placed on them, has changed dramatically.
A rosier view of this dynamic would tell us that while sales reps are under increasing pressures to engage and challenge customers in new, value-added ways, this actually presents your organization with a unique opportunity to expand the role of your reps (and support your marketing goals at the same time) by helping them adopt a new persona: brand ambassador.
In truth, your salespeople are already serving in this capacity today and for many audiences are, quite literally, the “face” of your brand. This gives them tremendous power to help or hurt how your brand is perceived in the market. Yet often the concept of what constitutes a company brand is misunderstood.
Many in your company may confuse your brand with traditional visual elements like a logo or a set of corporate colors. A logo is certainly part of your brand, but it’s not the whole story — not by a long shot. Viewed holistically, your brand is really the experience customers have when doing business with your company.
So how do we ensure that sales’ growing powers for brand influence are used for good and not evil?
1. Be deliberate about defining your company’s brand personality.
This should be a collaborative task that incorporates the perspectives of multiple stakeholders in your organization, both inside and outside the sales team. One easy way to get started is to ask your team to write down keywords that would best describe your brand’s character if your brand was an actual person.
Think about how your brand wants to be perceived by your target audiences: how it should make them feel? Who is your brand as an individual? Is he or she rebellious and a risk-taker, or more conservative? Do you want the company to be seen as innovative and edgy, or more seasoned and mature? Defining these attributes not only guides your brand’s visual identity, but will also help your customer-facing teams understand how you want them to behave when interacting with customers and prospects.
2. Develop a comprehensive brand guide and ensure your sales teams understand how and when to use it.
A brand guide is essentially a set of rules that explain how your brand works. These guidelines typically include basic information such as an overview of your brand's history, vision, personality and key values. They also include visual identity guidelines including instructions for logo and typography usage that ensure your brand is portrayed accurately and consistently regardless of the method.
A sales-friendly brand guide should also include instructions on how copy should be drafted and the specific tone you expect for written communication. For example, there may be certain words or phrases that should be incorporated often, while others should be avoided at all costs (perhaps because they’re strongly associated with a competitor).
There might also be specific tonal guidelines that copy should always be upbeat and positive, or more educational and professional, to appeal to your target demographic.
3. Make brand messaging a must-have component of your sales onboarding and development programs.
Every company has a narrative they want their customers and prospects to hear, understand and ultimately, act upon. Your sales team needs a clear understanding of how to tell that story, and what points should be stressed to differentiate your business in the market. It’s not uncommon for product or service messaging to dominate sales training curriculums, but don’t forego spending time on your brand story if you want customers to have a full picture of your value.
A strong brand messaging approach should include the key questions your sales reps are likely to hear from customers:
- “Why do people buy from you and your company?”
- “What problems are you solving?”
- “How do you specifically differentiate from others in your market?”
- “What are three specific impacts you have had on a buyer’s business.”
4. Leverage your salespeople’s firsthand experience to refine your brand message over time.
Because your salespeople are in constant contact with customers and prospects, they often have a level of exposure that marketing does not. They hear firsthand what your customers’ needs are, and how they are responding to your messaging as it exists today. It’s important to have the right feedback channels to ensure that all this great knowledge is passed back to the rest of the organization so that iterative changes and improvements can be made. Being open to feedback and asking for constructive criticism also helps build respect between sales and marketing, and creates additional motivation for your reps to use the assets marketing produces.